From my recent trips to Thailand and India I was reminded that there are less fortunate people than me around the world. When I was in those countries I gave my money away to those less fortunate, they were mostly children no older than ten or twelve that spend their lives begging on the streets. Being hassled by beggars is a nuisance in those countries, and some people would say that I am only contributing to the problem. At which point I feel like beating them over the head with their Nike shoes and telling them that they have already been contributing to the problem through products that exploit third world countries. But then there is no point arguing with the ignorant.
Raising money and donating to charities is a fruitless cause. Most charities have massive overheads in that a large portion of your donations goes towards paying the salaries of the non-profit organisations’ executive salaries, and whatever is left may eventually find its way to some third world country. When I was younger I used to do swim-a-thons to raise money for various charities by swimming 100 laps of an Olympic sized swimming pool. I participated in door knocking for the Red Cross at school, and even worked on a clickstream data warehouse for Green Peace as part of my undergraduate thesis. Over the years I have contributed a lot of time and money to these organisations, and it is only until you become a little older and a little wiser that you realise that your efforts towards these charities have made little impact on the lives of those less fortunate.
Handing over a few Rupees to a child in India is so much more effective than donating to a charity as it eliminates the middle man (the charity execs). However I am not that naive. I know that the child that I handed the Rupees to may have been kidnapped and put to work on the streets, you can see it in their eyes. In fact one of my colleagues when I was in India refused to give money to a little girl that was begging when our rickshaw stopped at a red light. She hit him when he refused. What would make a child do that? Perhaps the fear of returning “home” with a less than satisfactory haul of alms would be received with some form of abuse. I would not want that to happen, no matter what perspective you take on giving money to beggars.
I object to giving money to poor people on the streets in Australia. We have a welfare system in place that is suppose to support these people. My tax dollars are suppose to be going towards helping those people get their lives back in order. Poor people in third world countries are not so fortunate. India does not have a welfare system that can help those in need. Nor can those below the poverty line simply go out and get a job, as there are simply not enough jobs available for a nation that has such a large population. So what do those people that can’t get jobs do? They beg for money. Or perhaps driven to such despair that they steal, or sell their own organs. You don’t realise how lucky you are to be living in a country like Australia until you’ve visited a third world country.
So how can you help people that live in third world countries without donating to a charity or flying to the country and handing over money directly to those in need? Sadly there aren’t many alternatives around, except for maybe a non-profit organisation such as Kiva. You can go to Kiva’s website and lend to someone in the developing world who needs a loan for their business – like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or weaving clothes. All of your money that you lend goes towards helping the entrepreneur, and none of it is kept by Kiva. Even PayPal (Kiva’s payment broker) waives any fees that are associated with the money that you lend.
The reason I think Kiva is better than donating to a charity is that it supports the right behaviour in developing countries. It encourages people to start a business that can provide an income to support their families. It is a much more sustainable behaviour than simply giving people a bag of rice, which is what charities claim they do. The age old saying rings true, â€œGive a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetimeâ€.
I signed up to Kiva today and loaned some money to four different businesses in developing countries. Hopefully they will make good use of this money, and if it works out well then I will certainly contribute more money to this cause. I do intend for the money that is paid back to go towards other businesses in developing countries. Seeing some of the money returned through the loan is a sure way of knowing that your money has helped kick start a business in a developing country.